A New Politics, A New Economics

The major political phenomenon of the past decade has been a popular revolt against the economic arrangements that took form at the end of the twentieth century. The revolt is global. It takes both left- and right-wing forms, and often presents itself as overtly anti-immigrant or otherwise ethnonationalist, but the undercurrent of deep economic dissatisfaction is always there. Inequality in the developed world has been rising steadily for forty years now. The aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 activated the politics of economic populism: in the United States, the rise of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other politicians on the economic left, plus the Tea Party movement and to some extent Donald Trump and his acolytes who rail against globalization, Wall Street, and the big technology companies. In Europe, there is Brexit, new nativist parties (even in Scandinavia), and the Five Star movement in Italy, among other examples. What all of these have in common is that they took the political establishment utterly by surprise. And all of them regard the establishment, and any consensus that it claims to represent, with contempt.  The dynamic of this moment brings to mind the politics of the early twentieth century. During the nineteenth century, succeeding waves of the industrial revolution created (along with enormous and highly visible wealth) a great deal of displacement, exploitation, and want, which at first manifested itself in radical rebellions — in the United States they took the forms of agricultural populism and labor unrest. This was followed by a series of experiments in translating economic discontent into corrective government policy. Then as now, popular sentiment and electoral politics came first, and the details of governance came later. Most of the leading intellectuals of the Progressive Era were deeply uncomfortable with populism and socialism. The young Walter Lippman,

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